A Reinvention… I Hope.

Posted on May 17, 2011


I wonder if other members of the animal kingdom are as weird as humans. I picture a Disney movie where a bunch of squirrels are sitting on a squirrel porch bitching about, well, nothing. Just complaining about anything. [As of now, this post seems pointedly different from my previous and more uplifting Mariah’s Challenge post. As is my style, this post will get there, too. You just need to be patient with me, here]

“Hey Larry, can you believe all the damn potholes in the roads? It’s like they treat this place like a damned ghetto. Dumbasses.”

“Yeah, totally. And that jackass who bought the M&M bar is going to renovate it and reopen it. What a douche-bag.”

“Are you kidding me? He’s trying to open a business in town? He’s gonna strip away all the character. What a moron.”

“ And, did you hear they want to fix all the potholes in the roads? They’re gonna spend all the government’s money on improving our roads? Ridiculous. It’s like they want this place to become a ghetto.”

I’ve too often been witness to conversations like this that consist of condescending, downward spirals of illogicality that often result in bouts of juvenile or testosterone-fueled tirades of name-calling and contradictions. The only statement I forgot to include in the squirrel conversation is one that starts something like, “I remember when…” or “back in the day.”

These ‘back in the day’ thoughts seem to be the bedrock of Butte. And understandably so. The city was once the largest city west of Chicago, claimed over six theaters, over 100,000 people… the list goes on. Unfortunately as much as Butte boomed, it also busted. Now the shell of incredible architectural wonders crumble before our eyes, the mining jobs are all but gone, the city’s infrastructure is shot, and the remaining 25,000 people are having a hard time finding work. The ghosts of boom days linger on every corner; as I said earlier, there is a reason Butte’s culture is one set in the past.

Butte isn’t the beacon of urbanism and shining ray of success it once was. It most likely will never be. In our current state something clearly needs to change if the city will ever feel a shred of that again. The frustrating thing is observing an entity such as Butte not fostering forward change.

This is what I choose to see—forward change—and I’m starting to see a change in the chatter from those conversations to those of support and hope. There is a silver lining, Butte, who’s with me?

These thoughts were spurred on by a comment published regarding the reopening of an uptown bar and café, the M&M. Those of you unfamiliar with this place, it is a landmark that sits just off the main intersection of uptown. For, I think, 112 years, it never closed. Not once. That is pretty special itself. In fact Jack Kerouac, author of the iconic book On the Road, talked about the M&M in a 1970 article in Esquire magazine:

“It was Sunday night, I had hoped the saloons would stay open long enough for me to see them. They never even closed. In a great old-time saloon I had a giant beer. On the wall was a big electric signboard flashing gambling numbers …What characters in there: old prospectors, gamblers, whores, miners, Indians, cowboys, tobacco-chewing businessmen! Groups of sullen Indians drank rotgut in the john. Hundreds of men played cards in an atmosphere of smoke and spittoons. It was the end of my quest for an ideal bar…”

Ah… yeah. That’s pretty cool.

Not long ago, the M&M had to close its doors. To many locals that experienced what Kerouac did, this was a dagger to the spirit of Butte. The building sat and eventually sold. The new owner then unveiled plans to renovate the historic icon and reopen the doors (and throw away the key!). As of last Friday, May 13, 2011 the M&M was open for business again.

This is what needs to happen for that shred of the old times to come back. Things need to change, to evolve, and most importantly, to reinvent themselves.

Comment from an article about the reopening of the M&M from the Montana Standard: “Sadly the prices went way up along with a loss of true character to the place. It is a facade. A sham.”

People must understand that reinvention doesn’t destroy oneself or the character is possesses; it supplements and complements what already exists.  It is different, I understand that, but in order to reverse the ghettoization of Butte—of our country—things need to be different, because what we were has gotten us to where we are. The M&M still exists; the service is poor, the food is greasy, and things couldn’t be more appropriate. It’s not gone-far from it-it’s just undergoing a reinvention. Let’s roll with it, support it, and perhaps another famous author seeks out a bar stool and echoes Kerouac’s fine words. The alternative is a much more dismal story to tell.

People need to continue to create and embrace these silver linings and opportunities. That’s why I’m excited to help and support an organization like Mariah’s Challenge, to help organize the Butte 100 mountain bike race, and to use my talents to spread the good in and of my town and the world.

Think about a world where the squirrels are saying things like…

“Hey Jimmy, let’s go grab a coffee before checking our plants at the community garden and the farmer’s market .”

“Cool, and then let’s take the bike path over to see who’s playing at the Original Mine stage.”

… wait, that already happens.

Posted in: Think